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Nashville gets lip service from “Nashville” pilot

When ABC announced they were picking up a pilot about Music City last spring, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

What I didn’t see coming was the traffic that would come from it. During the summer, my job was a few blocks away from some location shooting for “Nashville.” While the social media buzz that came from the shoot was reasonable, I wasn’t pleased when I left late from work that night to find some of the longest waits for a light off of Broadway.

As I was sitting in front of dozens of cars near the Gulch, I was certain I would be Nashvilled out by the time the show premiered on ABC in the fall.

Now fast forward to this week. With masses of critical hype for the pilot and loads of local buzz, the sudser finally debuted to a national audience Wednesday night.

By that point, I was just as steadfast about swearing off the show as I was before. The level of local talk for the show was even more than I expected, so much that I thought nothing the show could produce could match it.

But then I checked Twitter and Facebook later Wednesday night. The program seemed to be the one thing everyone was talking about and even liked. Some of my reporter colleagues were shocked to see some of their beats on national television. Old friends and Nashville natives blogged their thoughts about the episode hours after the premiere. Even enough of the hard-to-impress Belmont community watchfully kept track.

Somehow, that was enough to change my mind. I pulled up Hulu and prepared for the worst. Let’s just say I’m not the demographic that’s sought after or even needed to tune in to the show I expected it to be. As many people would tell you, I’m much more of an Aaron Sorkin type.

That said, the pilot was… not bad. The dialogue needed some work, but for a soap that’s going to be defined by the melodramatic stories its characters twist up, it could have been a lot worse. Connie Britton, like always, was on point in her role from the moment she stepped on the Grand Ole Opry stage as fading country star Rayna James. Her on-screen adversary, Hayden Panetierre’s Juliette Barnes, also showed promise as an auto-tuned villainess with just enough depth to keep fans interested.

My favorite part of the show, however, involved none of characters, drama or soapy rhetoric. One of the best characters of the night was the city itself – and not just at well-promoted points like the Bluebird Cafe, the Shelby Street Bridge and Tootsie’s. The show gave lip service to non-tourist traps in town like the Hermitage Hotel and the State Capitol. They even addressed issues like the age-old “What are we going to do the old thermal plant site?” question.

At least in the pilot, the show’s developers did enough homework about the city to keep Nashvillians from claiming they were terribly and erroneously represented as over-the-top hicks or overzealous country music fans. Let’s hope, for the show’s sake, they don’t eventually get snagged into either of those character molds. Instead, the producers should take viewers to the heart of the town beyond Broadway and SoBro. Go to Hermitage, Belle Meade and North Nashville. Even come to Belmont if a scene requires college students. If anything, show that Nashville is more than just a country music mecca, despite the main plot of the show.

Maybe then – and that’s a still a big maybe – I’ll tune in.

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